It seemed that, for a long, long time, the RPG boxed set was dead. Game makers moved to a big core book format, presumably to be a better fit for primary sales channels such as book stores. You can flip through a core book far easier than a boxed set to see if the game intrigues beyond back copy.
Recently, the boxed set has been reborn as the starter kit. It’s a smaller, less expensive way to get into a tabletop RPG. It usually includes pre-made characters, a short adventure and rules brief. The best ones include things that will stay useful should people buy into the full game like playing aids or extended adventures. Elements like these also lure people that already have the core rulebook to pick up the starter set for completionist sake.
Best RPG boxed sets for beginners
- Dungeons & Dragons 5E Starter Set/Essentials Kit
- Warhammer: Age of Sigmar - Soulbound Starter Set
- City of Mist: The Starter Box
- RuneQuest Starter Set
- Call of Cthulhu Starter Set
- The One Ring 2E Starter Set
- Starfinder Beginner Box
- Cyberpunk Red: Jumpstart Kit
- Star Wars Roleplaying Beginner Game
- The Black Hack: Second Edition Boxed Set
It may seem odd to sell a demo of a game but there are a lot of folks who don’t want to try a new game outside of the one they are playing. These starter sets are engineered for a few nights of play rather than asking players to sign on to a lengthy campaign.
Game masters struggling to convince their roleplaying group to try something new might have a better chance of changing things up by pitching one of these RPG starter sets. Some of them teach the mechanics as they go. Others walk players through a short campaign. But they are all worth a look for anyone looking to try something new at the start of a new year.
1. Dungeons & Dragons 5E Starter Set/Essentials Kit
The king wears two crowns
One of the keys to Dungeons & Dragons 5E’s success is its accessibility. It’s the easiest edition of D&D that’s been released in a while. It also has not one, but two killer introductory boxed sets that teach people how to play D&D 5E.
The D&D 5E Starter Set has a more coherent story, famously explored by The Adventure Zone - so budding dungeon masters can listen to the early episodes for inspiration. Meanwhile, the Essentials Kit has better advice on how to be a dungeon master, with more tools on how to make a story their own and nifty sidekick rules useful for smarter groups.
Even better? Both sets are frequently on sale for half off, allowing D&D players to give hours of fun to friends and family for less than it takes to see the latest Marvel blockbuster on opening weekend.
2. Warhammer: Age of Sigmar - Soulbound Starter Set
Call us for a game anytime, Henry
When most people think of the Warhammer universe, they think of one of two things: a grimdark setting and Henry Cavill painting minis while not wearing a shirt.
There’s darkness all over Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, but there are also epic heroes looking to stomp Chaos back into the hole it crawled from with their own massive powers. Steampunk dwarves? Check. Living tree druids? Check. Giant winged immortal valkyrie soldiers forged from heroic souls of previous ages? Check. These are all starting characters that can be played right out of the boxed set for Age of Sigmar RPG Soulbound. Makes going back to playing a halfling rogue seem uninspired.
The Soulbound Starter Set comes with some gorgeous gatefold character sheets, an adventure that thrusts the players into rebuilding an important part of the city of Brightspear and a guide to Brightspear for future adventures, plus dice, play aids and punch-out token. The standout tokens are for mettle, which is a resource players use for more powerful actions in combat. In play, it sounds like “metal”, which leads to amazing phrases like “I spend mettle to hit the demon’s other head with my axe.” (Cue awesome guitar riff.)
3. City of Mist: The Starter Box
It’s hard to be a Rift in the City
City of Mist has quietly become one of the most popular evolutions of the Powered by the Apocalypse system. Instead of one big playbook, players construct a character from four, split between their character’s normal life and the powers of the legend that connected itself to the character.
The Starter Box succinctly explains these abilities while also laying out how a good mystery is constructed for these strange characters to solve. The character sheets fold out with gorgeous art detailing each character and their abilities. They are also dry-erase, allowing players to use them again and again to teach the game.
Buy City of Mist: The Starter Box from publisher Son of Oak Game Studio (US).
4. RuneQuest Starter Set
In a time of ancient gods, warlords and kings...
What if D&D took its cues from mythologies rather than pulp fantasy? That’s the question at the heart of RuneQuest, the critically-acclaimed RPG from game design legend Greg Stafford. RuneQuest offers a chance to play mythic heroes seeking adventure in a deep setting like few other RPGs.
The RPG’s Starter Set offers a hearty sample of the world of Glorantha full of cults, gods, monsters and all the other things players need to turn their characters from legends to kings. While most RPG boxed sets have half a dozen or so characters to choose to play, this one has 12 - with another round coming soon to really expand options for players new to the world.
5. Call of Cthulhu Starter Set
Go do that Cthulhu that you do, so well
It could be argued that more people have been introduced to the Cthulhu Mythos through Call of Cthulhu the RPG than the original stories. The horror RPG’s boxed set features a great mix of pregenerated characters, cases that start at solo adventures and ramp up to full investigations, and even some light character creation for when those characters get killed or locked up in Arkham Sanitorium.
The Starter Set features three scenarios, including Dead Man’s Stomp - which showcases a great mix of what makes Call of Cthulhu so good: New Orleans jazz, murderous gangsters and a cursed Lovecraftian artefact. A new edition is due out later this year with errata and updated art.
6. The One Ring 2E Starter Set
Just be careful if you wander too far from The Shire and too close to Mordor
The Starter Set for Free League Publishing’s take on The One Ring RPG takes advantage of its Middle-earth setting by focusing on hobbits and their home base.
The Shire is great for adventures that feel like Tolkien while also staying fairly low stakes for fans who might want to introduce gaming to their kids without throwing them at Mount Doom right away.
The fanbase of these stories has only grown in the 20 years after the films, and The One Ring 2E’s slick system and art should be tempting to anyone who wants to slip into Bilbo or Frodo’s oversized shoes. The boxed set also includes a double-sided map of Eriador and The Shire, suitable for framing in any Tolkien fan’s Hobbit-hole.
7. Starfinder Beginner Box
Come and get your skittermander
Starfinder is more than just elves in space. It’s a solid space-opera setting that has as much in common with Guardians of the Galaxy as it does with its sister game Pathfinder.
The RPG’s Beginner Box is chock-full of play aids and explainer materials to help cut through the chunky rules and show off the customisation and tactical fun of the game. It also has pawns, tactical maps and other things that will last well into a full campaign.
The included starter adventure has players fighting a dragon on a space station, which is exactly what you want out of a game like this.
8. Cyberpunk Red: Jumpstart Kit
A look into the past of the dark future
Cyberpunk Red’s first boxed set came out as a preview to capitalise on the excitement of new Cyberpunk after so, so long.
It holds up as a good introduction to the time of Cyberpunk Red with a lot of reference materials and adventures for use with the full book. (Not to mention, you could buy the official Q Workshop Cyberpunk Red dice on their own or buy the kit and get all the other stuff with it.)
The rules have changed a bit between the Jumpstart Kit and the release of Cyberpunk Red's core book, but the folks at R. Talsorian have provided a free update kit on their website.
9. Star Wars Roleplaying Beginner Game
Impressive. Most impressive.
Fantasy Flight Games made a controversial decision to split its Star Wars RPG into three lines, but that allowed the game to dive deeper into areas than previous Star Wars roleplaying games.
Each line - Age of Rebellion, Edge of the Empire, Force and Destiny - comes with a Beginner Game boxed set that has a decent adventure walking players through a classic adventure. Materials on the FFG website really extend these adventures and add new characters to each.
The series has been on a bit of a pause right now so there’s not a treadmill of new supplements to catch up on. Edge Studios has been reprinting the old titles to drive down secondary market prices and says new ones are on the way, though they haven’t announced any yet. Put us down for sourcebooks featuring The Mandalorian and Jedi: Fallen Order, please.
10. The Black Hack: Second Edition Boxed Set
The joy of hexcrawl
While not a starter set, this boxed set has everything a GM might need to start up their own fantasy hexcrawl game. The rules are slim and player-facing while still familiar to anyone that’s played Dungeons & Dragons.
The book is full of rules, charts and guidelines to create towns and dungeons on the fly. Each of these rules takes up no more than a page, allowing tables to run from the books on the go or let a GM craft something with minimal prep. There are even tiny spellbooks for wizards and clerics that have all their spell effects written inside.
Even if the players don’t fall for The Black Hack, these materials will still prove useful if you move back to D&D.
Buy The Black Hack: Second Edition Boxed Set on Squarehex.